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Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016)

At turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, Trevor Noah’s candid memoir is a powerful, moving story of his life as a mixed race child growing up during apartheid. Told in vignettes, Born a Crime documents his relationship with his mother, his childhood and teenage antics, and his struggle to fit into a world that considered him a crime (at the time of his birth, interracial relationships were illegal).

Perhaps best known as the host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, Noah does infuse humor into his stories, but this is not your typical comedian’s memoir. Listen to the audiobook: the author’s command of multiple languages and skill at impersonations shine in his engaging narration.

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander (2012)

Dr. Eben Alexander was close to death for a week. The memories from that week have changed his life and the way he thinks about life after death. In Proof of Heaven, Alexander pulls the reader into his drama and can cause a life changing shift in perspective. Listening to Alexander's own voice recount his experiences made it all the more powerful a message.

Mrs. Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill (2012)

mrskennedyThis book is a wonderful accolade to Jacqueline Kennedy. Clint Hill's story is beautifully written as he relives the happiness and agony of his time spent as Mrs. Kennedy's secret service agent.

Watch Clint Hill discuss Mrs. Kennedy and Me on C-SPAN.

The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man's Fight for Justice and Freedom in China by Chen Guangcheng (2015)

barefootlawyerAlthough blind from a very young age and without any formal legal training, Chen Guangcheng became known as the “barefoot lawyer” from his persistent assertion of legal rights for ordinary Chinese citizens. Chen was a thorn in the side of local authorities when first he insisted on free public transportation and tax exemptions for the disabled, obtained a grant for a deep water well from British funding, and then opposed what he believed to be excessive enforcement of China’s one child policy.

Local Chinese authorities seem to ignore published law when subjected to party pressure, but Chen persisted in favor of those he wants to help. When a rally against the one child policy disrupts traffic and property is damaged, Chen is arrested and sentenced to four years in prison. After his release, he and his family are kept under house arrest from 2010 to 2012 when he makes a daring escape and with the help of friends seeks refuge in the U. S. embassy in Beijing. After some stressful negotiations and a stay in a Beijing hospital, Chen is accepted as a visiting scholar in the U.S where he remains and has written this memoir The Barefoot Lawyer. With the U.S. presidential election on the horizon, will political bloggers take interest in the actions of the U.S. State Department towards Chen?

Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale (1980)

catchmeThis true life adventure is almost too over the top to be believed. The movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio pales in comparison to the book. At a very young age, Frank Abagnale set out on a life of crime that took him all over the world as he impersonated a Pan Am pilot, masqueraded as a supervising resident of a hospital, and practiced law without a license. He cashed over $2.5 million in forged checks and was known by the police of 26 foreign countries and all fifty states as "The Skywayman." His descriptions of narrowly escaping capture will make your jaw drop. When he is ultimately captured, he pays a heavy price. Catch Me If You Can is an exciting real story which will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The French House by Don Wallace (2014)

frenchhouseThis is a charming narrative of a family claiming a piece of a beautiful French island for themselves. Don Wallace's description of the natural beauty of Belle-Ile makes you want travel to this remote island and climb the cliffs to the beach.

Despite the fact that Don and his wife Mindy are just barely scraping by in New York City, they decide to buy a ruined house in a small village on Belle-Ile. Repairing it enough to make it inhabitable takes 8 years and multiple trips to the island. There are ancient village rules for building a sane and moral house that take some serious negotiating. Wallace relays the bonds they form with the village neighbors, his struggle with the French language and their love of surfing with a humorous touch that make The French House an enjoyable read.

Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me: The Pursuit of Happiness, One Celebrity at a Time by Rachel Bertsche (2014)

index.aspxI thoroughly enjoyed Rachel Bertsche's quest to emulate a different celebrity each month (Jennifer Aniston's workout regimen, Gwyneth Paltrow's cooking, etc.) in order to improve her happiness, well-being, etc. In Jennifer, Gwyneth, & Me, the planning and execution of the journey is balanced with her personal struggle with infertility. The author's engaging voice is humorous and relatable. She includes interesting perspectives on celebrity culture and how it has changed... whether you're a regular People or have a love-hate relationship with the current obsession with celebrities, Bertsche's voice will draw you in.
 
 

Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys? by Billy Crystal (2013)

Upon turning 65, Billy Crystal, a comedian, actor, and director, wrote this entertaining, humorous, and sometimes poignant book. It alternates between quips about aging and reflections on his family life and career. In the audio version of Still Foolin’ ‘Em, the chapters on aging seem right out of his stand-up act complete with laugh track. I especially enjoyed the sections on the making of the movies When Harry Met Sally and City Slickers and learning about his friendship with Muhammad Ali. Reading about his early marriage years with Janice through being a grandpa gave me a different perspective on this funny man.

A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel (2001)

In this memoir, Haven Kimmel recounts her small town Indiana childhood where her father took a gun to his factory job every day, and her mother read science fiction novels in her corner of the couch. A delightful, humorous read.

Check out A Girl Named Zippy and these discussion questions.

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart (2007)

Summer at Tiffany is a delightful portrait of a moment in time. During the summer of 1945, Marjorie and her roommate Marty leave the University of Iowa for New York City. While jobs aren't quite as easy to procure as promised, they get hired as the first female pages (runners) at Tiffany’s flagship store.

More than 60 years later, Marjorie recounts that special summer: celebrity sightings (Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich – did you know her role in WWII?), saving pennies for a few treats, dancing with soldiers, her own summer romance, and experiencing V-J Day in Times Square.

When I think of 1945, World War II immediately comes to mind. Marjorie's story is a different slice of that year. As she said, everyone she knew was affected. Yet the story she shares is a 21-year-old small town girl experiencing the big city for the first time.

 

Paris in Love by Eloisa James (2012)

Shakespeare professor (as Mary Bly) and romance novelist Eloisa James takes a yearlong sabbatical and moves from New Jersey to Paris with her husband (Alessandro, a professor and an Italian knight) and two children (Luca, 15 and Anna, 11).

It's difficult to describe this book. It's a memoir. A travelogue. A love letter to the City of Light. A chronicle of everyday family occurrences. But it's done in such a way that draws you in and makes you feel as if you're there alongside Eloisa and her family in Paris. Anna will steal your heart. The antics of Milo, the family dog, will leave you chuckling.

The book grew out of Facebook status updates posted during her year abroad. Each chapter starts with a brief essay and is followed by short vignettes. Some are only a few sentences long; others are lengthy paragraphs. It works.

The writing is eloquent and witty. Although the format lends itself to reading in short spurts, you won't want to put this book down!

Read Paris in Love today! Also check out a TIME Magazine interview with the author about her famous parents, her writing life, and her decision to move to Paris.

Watch the author and her husband discuss the book and see some of Luca’s snapshots of Paris in this YouTube video.

Life Itself by Roger Ebert

Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert (2011)
Roger Ebert is one of the most well-known movie critics in the world, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967 and also famous for the television show Siskel & Ebert at the Movies. Ebert has written many books that review movies and even a biography of director Martin Scorsese. But his memoir of growing up in southern Illinois is his most impressive work yet.

Plagued for years by cancer that eventually disfigured his face and left him unable to eat, drink or speak, Ebert’s story is not depressing but rather a celebration of what a wonderful life he has had. He was able to overcome alcoholism and marry the woman of his dreams who is still his devoted partner. The book also has fun tales to tell of his close encounters with movie stars such as John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. To learn more about Ebert check out his blog.

Read Ebert’s reviews of movies currently playing at a theater near you:

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/
 

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Bossypants by Tina Fey (2011)
I loved listening to this book on CD. It was narrated by the author, Tina Fey, probably best known for her impersonation of Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential election. She’s also been the head writer on Saturday Night Live; writes and stars in the TV series 30 Rock; and has written and/or starred in a number of films. She talks about getting her start in comedy in Chicago with the Second City troupe.

There are many laugh-out-loud moments throughout the book, and she delivers them perfectly.  She’s gutsy, intelligent, and irreverently funny, with a no-holds-barred attitude about most things. Highly recommend this for anyone who wants a good laugh, although there is “adult language” which may offend some people.

-Denise

Comedian Tina Fey entertains in her well-written memoir covering her personal life plus her stints at Chicago’s Second City, Saturday Night Live, and 30 Rock. I suggest listening to the audiobook narrated by Fey. Even if you haven’t followed her career, it’s easy to relate to this down to earth comedian and actress. I burst out laughing during her recollections of her childhood and her honeymoon as well as her responses to mean-spirited comments.

Wondering about the cover? Check out this interview with the hand model.
-Jennifer

For more about the book, check out TIME, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Times.

Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making It Work by Tim Gunn

Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making It Work by Tim Gunn (2010)
Tim Gunn made the phrase “Make It Work!” famous on the hit reality TV series Project Runway where he mentors the contestants and costars with model Heidi Klum. In this etiquette book/biography, Tim shares his 18 golden rules for a happy and successful life. The rules include “be a good guest or stay home” and “when you need help, get it.” Surprisingly, when it comes to appropriate clothing, he reminds us that “physical comfort is overrated,” but that he really doesn’t notice too much what other people wear, and will rarely comment on an outfit unless he is asked.

Just one of the interesting tidbits in the book is that Tim was an unpaid consultant on Project Runway for the first two seasons. Other juicy revelations include info on J. Edgar Hoover since Gunn’s father was an FBI special agent and also J. Edgar’s ghostwriter.

Visit Gunn's facebook page for more information on the fashion guru.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey (2010)

“It must have some kind of teeth, and it wasn’t shy about using them.”---A description of a nightmarish monster? No. Instead, it’s a tai chi master...snail. This surprising, lovingly crafted homage to a snail, written by the seriously ill and bed-ridden Bailey whose friend one day brings her a wild snail in a flowerpot for her bedside, delighted me with Bailey’s observations of her new companion. She finds many parallels between her life and the snail’s, making this book meaningful and moving. Although the denouement seemed a bit rushed, I found it an easy read and enjoyed the captivating little quotations and haiku poetry about snails that introduced the chapters. Who would have thought? Four ½ stars.

Check out the YouTube video about this book.